It’s hard to believe a year has passed since I published Digital Divisions, my first sole-authored book. Weirder still to think that I published it during a pandemic. This is an attempt to share a bit about what was great and not so great about the experience, and what I’d do differently next time.

Thanks to Farah Faruqi, Zach Levy, Diana Enriquez, Dana Moss, Burrel Vann Jr., Alison Gerber, and Angèle Christin for helping with some inspiration for this. I’ll start with notes about writing the book, and then talk about my experiences sharing it.


How I found a book press

Back when I was finishing…

Is school the ‘great equalizer’? This is a central question education researchers try to answer, and Mr. Edsall recently reflected on some scholarship pointing to the importance of kids’ skills in this discussion. But focusing on skills ignores a real issue — that schools differently treat kids’ skills depending on their student demographic.

To summarize, the “skills gap” refers to the idea that kids’ unequal development of skills is a source of educational inequality. As the story goes, kids from poorer families learn fewer skills than those from wealthier families. …

It was a frigid fall morning in Upstate New York. The seven of us unloaded ourselves from the van our teacher had rented and we spilled out into a parking lot outside of one of the libraries at Syracuse University. I remember looking up at the brick building in awe, marveling at the ivy lacing different parts of the exterior. What were people like who passed through here? What would they become?

We were enrolled in an experimental research course at our high school entirely concocted by our teacher, and this trip was part of the curriculum she assembled for…

So what, exactly, is this 350+ online community of tech-focused social scientists you’ve been hearing about? We, the administrators of TechnoSoc: Sociologists of Digital Things (SDT), wanted to share with you what we do, what members get out of it, and how it works. There’s also a lot of new and exciting stuff in development. So we’ll share a bit about that, too.

Who are we?

SDT is a member-led community of sociologists who study digital phenomena in any capacity and/or study social life using digital methods. We are a diverse grassroots collective aiming to help one another with questions…

Around this time last year I shared a list of articles and books I read over the last 12 months — writing that really shaped my thinking about human behavior. It was so much fun (and so much better than listing things I was proud of about myself…I’m bored even just thinking about it) that I’m doing it again. Here’s 10 pieces I read in 2020 that changed how I see the world.

Braverman, Harry. 1998. Labor and Monopoly Capital: The Degradation of Work in the Twentieth Century. New York: NYU Press. [link]

I have a handful of memories reading…

Thanks to Connor Gilroy, Andrew Lindner, Paul Morgan, CJ Pascoe, Amber Tierney, and Nga Than for feedback.

Sociology is increasingly wading into the study of digital technology use. As a graduate student, I remember searching for terms like “digital” or even “technology” and next to nothing would come up in our disciplinary journals. Sociologists are among the world’s experts in matters of social life and inequality, and I’m so excited for more people from the field to extend our theories and approaches to today’s digitally mediated world.

But we all know that good science emerges from a network of support…

They’re uniquely equipped to map how users interface with digital technology.

Photo credit: Rodion Kutsaev

The tech industry has always had a curious relationship with social scientists. As a PhD student in sociology in 2010, I remember hearing professors discuss the “Xerox Parc days”: starting in the late 1970s, anthropologists helped technologists encounter their machines in more natural habitats beyond the lab. Since then, social scientists of all kinds — sociologists, economists, psychologists, you name it — began working alongside technology entrepreneurs. Startups who “made it” in the tech sector had done their research, so to speak.

As the industry reached another boom in the 2000s, perceptions of research in the tech sector started to…

Schools that rely on remote learning during the pandemic are trying to ensure that all kids have the devices and internet bandwidth they need. While important, it takes more than everyone having comparable equipment and working WiFi for all children to get an equal shot.

In my new book based on the sociological research I conducted at three middle schools before the COVID-19 pandemic, I explain how even if all students could get the same hardware and software, it would fail to even the academic playing field.

I saw many technologies used in unequal ways. And I observed teachers responding…

We designed our first online course that uses student videos as a driving feature of the class. The semester just ended. Time for reflection!

I’ve decided to write some reflections on running an online course on Social Inequality (Sociology) that I co-designed and taught with Andrew Penner here at UC-Irvine. After talking with colleagues, I realized that most people don’t know what online courses “look” like — it’s not so clear how they appear visually, how they are experienced day-to-day, and what the various opportunities and challenges are for online coursework using Canvas, a new learning management system. I hope…

So I’m going to preface this with the fact that I’m co-hosting an academic-ish hackathon on Monday at 1pm (PST). It will be wildly fun and thought-provoking and we will be crowdsourcing #alloftheknowledge. (Please join!) But why can these things be fun and helpful?

First of all, one of the things we talked about during our panel last week was that advisors and graduate programs provide a lot of helpful information — but they don’t teach you everything. Christo and I talked about how we learned the ropes for conducting ethnographic fieldwork through apprenticeship model with experienced researchers. Rena, Cassidy

Matt Rafalow

sociology phd. tech researcher. author.

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